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Biden Focusing On COVID Strategy With 10 Executive Actions, Reviving WHO Support

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JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images
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AFP
President Biden plans to sign another series of executive actions on his second day in office — focused on dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The administration is renewing U.S. support to WHO and getting a boost from Amazon, which is offering its network and advanced technologies to assist in distributing vaccines.

President Joe Biden plans to sign a series of orders and directives on his second day in office to take charge of stopping the spread of the coronavirus, steps that his advisers say will start to boost testing, vaccinations, supplies and treatments.

Accelerating the sluggish federal response to COVID-19 is Biden's top priority, and he has promised 100 million vaccinations in his first 100 days. He is also pushing Congress for another $1.9 trillion in relief, a package that would include direct payments to Americans, support for small businesses and a huge boost in funding for vaccines and testing.

Biden will push to advance the strategy his team has developed, starting with 10 executive orders and directives, his COVID-19 response coordinator, Jeff Zients, told reporters.

"Last week you heard the president lay out his vaccine strategy," Zients said, adding that on Thursday, Biden will advance "the road map to guide America out of this public health crisis."

One of the orders will direct agencies to use the Defense Production Act to address critical shortfalls in 12 categories of items needed for testing, treating and vaccinating people for COVID-19: vaccines, N95 masks, gowns, gloves, test supplies and kits, lab analysis machines, therapeutic drugs and other supplies — and will work to spur production of the items in America.

"Where we can produce more, we will — where we need to — use the Defense Production Act to help more be made," Tim Manning, Biden's COVID-19 supply coordinator, told reporters.

"We'll be doing a complete ... inventory of what we have on hand, what's needed across America to respond to this pandemic and what we can do to fill those gaps," said Manning, a former deputy administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Biden plans to sign a memo to direct FEMA to fully reimburse states for vaccination and testing supplies and for the costs of National Guard deployments associated with the pandemic, officials told reporters. Biden plans to establish the COVID-19 Pandemic Testing Board to boost testing.

Other orders and directives are planned to:

  • Require masks on planes and buses and in airports, and require travelers to show a negative COVID-19 test before flying to the United States.
  • Direct more studies and trials of COVID-19 treatments.
  • Mandate more public data on cases and vaccinations.
  • Offer more guidance to schools on reopening.
  • Direct the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to provide guidance for workplaces.
  • Establish a COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force to make recommendations on ensuring underserved communities hurt worst by the pandemic are treated more fairly.

Biden also plans to support the global response to the pandemic and will join the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) Facility and other multilateral initiatives.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s top adviser on the pandemic, says the U.S. is again funding the World Health Organization and joining its consortium aimed at sharing coronavirus vaccines fairly around the globe.

"I am honored to announce that the United States will remain a member of the World Health Organization," Dr. Anthony Fauci said Thursday, informing the WHO's executive board that Biden has reversed former President Donald Trump's move to leave the U.N.'s health agency.

In addition to fulfilling its financial obligations to WHO, the U.S. will cease a drawdown of U.S. staff who work with the organization, Fauci said.

The U.S. relationship with the WHO is "one that we value deeply and will look to strengthen going forward," Fauci said.

Biden has sent letters to retract Trump's withdrawal to the U.N. secretary-general and to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Fauci said, addressing Tedros as "my dear friend."

Tedros responded on Twitter, "Thank you my brother Tony for leading the delegation" at the executive board meeting, and for announcing the renewed U.S. support for the WHO.

That Trump administration's withdrawal was rich with symbolism. But it also had practical ramifications: The U.S. halted funding for the U.N. health agency — stripping it of badly needed cash as it was battling a health crisis that has killed more than 2 million people.

Biden also plans to extend a nationwide pause on evictions through the end of March. The federal eviction moratorium, implemented through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is intended to help tenants who have been battered economically by the pandemic.

"Without this action by President Joe Biden, millions of renters could have lost their homes during this surge in COVID-19," says Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. But she adds that the moratorium itself is insufficient and allows some landlords to evict tenants despite the protections.

For example, she notes that no federal agency is enforcing the order's penalties for unlawful evictions.

Elsewhere, Amazon is offering its colossal operations network and advanced technologies to assist Biden in his vow to get 100 million COVID-19 vaccinations to Americans in his first 100 days in office.

The CEO of Amazon’s Worldwide Consumer division, Dave Clark, said in a letter to Biden that the company has a deal with a licensed third-party occupational health care provider to give vaccines on-site at its facilities.

The administration says efforts to supercharge the rollout of vaccines have been hampered by lack of cooperation from the Trump administration during the transition.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.